If you know anything at all about studio compression, the numbers “1176” probably need no introduction. And even if you’ve never heard of the legendary Urei 1176 compressor, you’ve heard it on countless hit music spanning every decade since its release in the late 60’s. The solid-state, FET-based Urei/Universal Audio 1176 is considered by many distinguished musicians, engineers, and producers as one of the greatest compressors of all-time and is still in production today. The Origin Effects Cali76 draws upon the 1176’s legacy with a single mission: to give guitarists access to that legendary compression sound in a stompbox guitar pedal.
But the Cali76 isn’t to be mistaken as a mere clone of the 1176. While the Cali76’s name clearly references the 1176 and Urei’s California origins, it’s actually a carefully crafted original circuit that mirrors the topology of the 1176’s design with thoughtfully condensed circuitry to fit into a floor-based unit for your pedalboard. The task of shrinking the illustrious 1176 into a pedal without any compromise in sound quality is a task that few pedal builders would even attempt, but Simon Keats of Origin Effects draws upon an engineering and design experience working with a number of well-known audio companies to bring guitarists the Cali76.
What’s especially interesting to note about the Cali76 is that there are multiple versions available, each one perhaps suited to different needs. Our review aims not only to find out how good the Cali76 really is in general but to also discover which version may be best suited to which user.
Here’s the most basic feature summary of the Cali76 pedals that have been released so far:
Cali76-STD: standard model, single in/out.
Cali76-TX: iron core transformer, in/out, Line/DI out w/ ground lift & pad, high/low gain modes.
Cali76-TX-L: same as above except w/ Lundahl transformer instead of iron core.
Cali76-TX-P: same as Cali76-TX w/ added parallel compression and foot-switchable 2-8 dB Boost.
Cali76-TX-LP: same as above except w/ Lundahl transformer instead of iron core.
We’re reviewing 3 of the 5 to cover the different features found in these units. The biggest concern for most potential Cali76 owners is whether or not to get the standard unit or a transformer equipped version. The parallel/boost models were a limited run, but we’re still going to assess the value of those added features to see if you’re really missing out.
Cali76-STD vs Cali76-TX vs Cali76-TX-LP
If the Cali76 has come on your radar before reading this review, you might have had a few questions about the different models available. I was in the same situation myself. I decided that if I was going to review the Cali76, I wanted to do it right. I would have to compare the various versions available to see not only if the Cali76 really is the best compression pedal around but which version is the best one to get… period. (As you’ll soon discover, the different models are suited to different players.) Most importantly, I want this review to be a resource for helping you discover if the Cali76 is right for you and, if so, which version will best suit your needs.
Some people look at spec sheets and don’t fully understand what they’re reading. These hapless guitarists sometimes end up paying for something that ends up being less suited to their needs. It’s very important to understand what you want out of a product and know what those different options mean before making a buying decision. Don’t be one of those pedal hoarders trying to one-up the next person’s pedalboard with the fanciest version of whatever cool new pedal they find. If you put tone before everything else and want the best gear for creating your music, this Cali76 review is for you. I’ll do my best to share my thoughts on which version of the Cali76 may be best suited for who while assessing if these really are the best compression pedals since the original 1176 hit the scene. Here’s deeper summary of features before we get to our Origin Effects Cali76-STD, Cali76-TX, & Cali76-TX-LP review.
The Cali76 is a premium quality, 1960s-style FET compressor, inspired by the legendary Urei 1176.
Cali76-STD Key Features:
100% Class-A discrete signal path.
Ultra-fast “FET” response.
Attack & Release presets.
Studio-grade “discrete” preamplifier.
Rugged VU-style meter.
Optimized for guitar but also great for processing recorded instruments.
Selectable True, or Buffered, Bypass.
50 hours life from single 9V / PP3 cell.
Optional external power (9-18V DC).
Traditional Through-Hole PCB.
Cali76-TX Key Features:
100% Class-A discrete output-amplifier.
Custom-designed transformer driving a pair of outputs.
Unbalanced instrument-level output.
Balanced line-level output.
Ground-lift function to eliminate ground induced hum (balanced output only).
Signal-pad for DI (balanced output only).
Gain-switch adjusts level through transformer circuitry, for increased amplifier/transformer saturation.
Auto-Shut-Down – effectively returns pedal to “stock” format when powered from a battery or low-voltage supply (Cali76-STD mode).
Cali76-TX-LP Key Features:
Same as Cali76-TX with these exceptions:
Top-of-the-line Lundahl transformer.
Foot-switchable 8dB Clean Boost stage.
Parallel Dry signal path level control.
Sound & Performance:
You know that feeling when you play an instrument or a piece of gear and right away you just know that it’s a “next level” piece of hardware? Factors like price, build quality, and sound design aren’t what I’m talking about here. It’s like that moment when you pick up that perfect guitar and everything just clicks and you know that the instrument you’re playing will help you take your music to the next level. It’s the inspiration that the right instrument brings with it. I always have this feeling of experiencing a greater connection with my guitar and amp when a Cali76 is in the middle. The single biggest benefit of any guitar, amp, or effect is how it inspires you, and the Cali76 offers a source of inspiration that parallels the best instruments and effects I’ve ever played. Just as a good bus compressor gels a mix together, the Cali76 has a way of providing a unique bond between guitarist, instrument, and amp.
While compression is one of the most often misunderstood and underused effects by guitarists, it is perhaps the single most important effect a guitarist can use. Compression is all about dynamic control, accentuating aspects of your original guitar signal before it hits your other pedals and your amp and is finally heard from your speakers. Of course dynamic control also comes from your hands, but seasoned guitarists understand the important role a compressor can play in helping shape the initial sound that comes from your guitar. The Cali76 can be so subtle, yet have such a great presence on what you play and how you play it.
Let’s get away from the vagaries of the “magic” that Cali76 imparts on your sound. I’m going to start with my impressions of the Cali76-STD first as this was the unit I spent the most time with and probably the unit I’ve found is probably best suited to the needs of most guitarists.
When I unboxed these 3 pedals I spent about a week playing the Cali76-STD before even plugging the other models in. I wanted to develop an appreciation for the Cali76 on all levels instead of just diving into all the units and checking out those snazzy transformers in the more expensive models under the assumption that those pedals would sound “better” than the Cali76-STD.
(Pictured Above, Top Middle: Cali76-STD, Bottom Left: Cali76-TX, Bottom Right: Cali76-TX-LP)
While the Cali76-STD is the most basic and straight-ahead version of the Cali76, it is by no means a second rate version of the more costly units available. The first thing I noticed when activating the Cali76-STD is that it is perfectly transparent and offers a true representation of your guitar’s original tone. Transparency is one of the most sought-after attributes of a compressor, and the achievement of such a pure sound (even without the Lundahl transformer!) is a testament to Origin Effects’ careful attention to detail with this pedal. The Cali76-STD also operates with extremely low noise, a problem that usually plagues lesser stompbox compressors. It’s undeniable that the basic Cali76 model is leagues ahead of your typical compressor in terms of reproducing your input source signal accurately and without unwanted noise added. You can grit things up a bit if you’d like, but I’ll get to that later.
The Cali76-STD features a similar knob layout to the Urei 1176 with a 5th knob to pick the compression ratio instead of the 1176’s 4 buttons. Yes, that means no “all-button-mode” like on the 1176, but you instead get a smooth sweep through the ratios for fine tuning the perfect ratio of compression.
Your basic 2-knob compression pedal will usually have some kind of generic Sustain and Output control configuration. Likewise, the Cali76 starts with Input/Comp and Output. The Input/Comp lets you essentially adjust the threshold at which the compression kicks in by increasing the gain at the pedal’s studio-grade input preamplifier. If you crank the Input/Comp too high, you’ll get the expected saturation caused by clipping the input along with a more heavily compressed signal. You’ll typically get great results by pushing up the Input/Comp until the meter shows that you’re compressing the peaks on those more loudly picked notes. Then you can adjust your overall Output to unity gain with your bypassed sound or a little higher if you want a boost. If you want some heavier transient squashing, you can push up the Input/Comp to achieve your desired response. This also can be used to achieve a slightly “grittier” sound as mentioned above.
After you get the Input/Comp and Output set, you’ll find the Ratio to be an integral part of adjusting the amount of compression your signal receives after it passes the threshold set by the Input/Comp knob. Keeping the Ratio knob left of noon to the 4:1 and 8:1 settings usually provides enough of a cut to even out your dynamics without squashing the life out of your tone. The Cali76’s variable Ratio knob, in contrast to the Urei 1176’s 4 buttons, gives you greater ability to fine-tune the volume reduction to dial in the perfect amount of compression.
The beauty of the Cali76-STD is in its subtleties and how the parameters play off each other. The Ratio control also impacts the threshold of the unit which helps keep output volume consistent. You can balance extreme settings in one value with more mild settings in others. Even guitarists with little experience using compression will find it very hard to get a bad sound out of the Cali76-STD if you just listen to the sound and follow your ears. A little A/B testing with your dry signal will help you find just the right amount of compression to suite your tastes. Just keep your Input/Output around 12-3 ‘o clock or lower (especially if you’re using higher Ratio settings) to avoid overloading the input. It’s also important to get a feel for setting the Attack knob to let your picking transients through as well as getting the Release time right so that the compressor opens up for each note or passage you play. The Attenuation meter makes it easy to see how the compression is affecting your playing, so you can adjust settings accordingly.
Here are some example Cali76 settings from Origin Effects that give you some good starting points. While you can’t go wrong with these, you’ll get best results by tweaking them to your liking to suit the response you need for your playing. Follow your ears!
The Cali76-STD also features internal jumpers which may be used to select between true bypass (default) and buffered bypass (for long cable runs). Another jumper section allows you to lower the input sensitivity further, padding the pedal’s input if necessary. For typical guitar use at or near the front of your signal chain, the default options will most likely suffice. The Cali76-STD also has a single Input and Output for connectivity, making this the most accessible, plug-and-play unit in the line up for guitarists and bassists.
The Cali76-TX adds a few extra goodies to the Cali76 that make it a worthy consideration. The “TX” in the name indicates that this version has Origin Effects’ custom made iron core transformer at the output section of the pedal (“TX-L” indicates a Lundahl transformer). The most notable difference between the sound of the Cali76-STD and the Cali76-TX is that the iron core transformer imparts a more harmonically rich, fatter sound compared to the standard unit’s flat transparency. This pedal has the most unique character of the 3 variations (standard, iron core, & Lundahl) as it does impart a bit of its own color to your overall tone. The iron core transformer’s sound is especially tempting in a minimalist rig where you’ll really want that character to become a focus of your tone.
The Cali76-TX (and TX-L) also has a High/Low Gain switch on the back of the pedal that kicks up the gain by 9 dB where it hits the transformer, resulting in an even more saturated sound. The Cali76-TX keeps your output level consistent when you flip the switch to High Gain, so you can saturate your sound without getting hit by a potentially unwanted surge in volume. That was some very nice attention paid to detail on behalf of Simon Keats at Origin Effects. For guitarists this slight surge of gain will provide an even more aggressive sound, especially pleasing if you want to hit your amp hard directly from the pedal without using an overdrive or boost in your chain. Some bassists on the other hand may not appreciate the extra coloring and saturation the Cali76-TX offers. For preserving the sound and absolute clarity of your bass tone, perhaps the Cali76-STD or one of the Lundahl equipped units (Cali76-TX-L or TX-LP) would be preferred. Again, this where I’d really recommend knowing what you want to achieve beforehand with your tone before you make your final decision.
While I lean towards the Cali76-STD as being the best fit for most guitarists and bassists, the “TX” units do offer some extra flexibility in the connectivity area that are worth considering. While the Cali76-STD offers a single medium-impedance output (suitable for connecting to your pedals or directly into your amp), the 2 outputs on the “TX” units are “ultra-low-impedence” according to Origin Effects. This gives you the flexibility to drive “almost any audio input connection”. Basically, this means you can confidently connect the pedal to recording consoles, mixers, sound-cards, mic preamps, etc. There’s even a -28dB Pad switch to drop the output level on the Line/DI output to ensure connection to any line-level or mic-level input. It has a TRS output connection for converting to standard XLR with ground if necessary. A GND lift switch should help with removing any ground hum you may encounter as well. The Cali76-TX and Cali76-TX-L units give you extra connecting flexibility if you plan to use this pedal for tasks including vocal recording or connecting directly to a recording interface or mixing console for DI purposes.
All transformer versions of the Cali76 will bypass the transformer when powered via a 9-volt battery or 9VDC power supply. This means you can still access the Cali76-STD sound (albeit with slightly less dynamic range/headroom) if you really want the extra option. However, it must be understood that the regular Cali76-STD is impeccably transparent as is and is a very suitable option if you’d prefer to let all the tone come from your guitar, amp, and other overdrive and tone-enhancing pedals in your chain. Sometimes having several pedals that impart their own unique color to your tone can be like trying to paint with several brushes at once. For this reason I again touch on my point that perhaps the Cali76-STD may be best for most folks. But if you do choose a “TX” unit, you do still have the option of getting the “standard” Cali76 sound by using a 9-volt power source.
I’m testing this unit mainly to compare its Lundahl transformer to the iron core transformer and the FET-only standard version. The Cali76-TX-LP is essentially the same as the Cali76-TX-L only with an extra control for blending in your Dry Level (hence the “P” for parallel compression) and with a foot-switchable Boost function.
The Lundahl transformer is beautifully transparent along the lines of the standard Cali76 but with a more “hi-fi” audio quality to it. Origin Effects mentions on their site that it has no “core saturation”, instead offering the purest audio path for your signal and with a broad-spectrum frequency response far outside the range of human hearing. It’s more pristine than your ears may even realize. This might be overkill for some, but it does have its uses, particularly if you plan on recording direct with your Cali76 as you would with a rack-mounted compressor unit.
The absolute transparency and incredibly wide frequency response of the Lundahl transformer models make them especially worth considering for vocal recording applications and other mono signal compression duties in the studio. If you plan on using your Cali76 not only on your pedalboard but in your home/professional studio as well, you might benefit from having one of the Lundahl units.
As mentioned previously the Cali76-TX-LP also has a parallel compression option. This is particularly suited to recording applications for blending in some dry signal to fatten up the transients of percussion sounds. This could be essentially used to thicken up any input source. Many people feel that having a blend control isn’t necessary for guitar pedal compression as it detracts from the original purpose of using compression in the first place. Also, people who don’t really understand how to properly use compression may end up using a blend control as a crutch to fatten up their tone instead of really dialing in their compression sound. I was, however, able to use the Cali76-TX-LP’s parallel compression to thicken up my sound and make my guitar sound more saturated akin to the iron core Cali76-TX even without the Gain switch set to High.
The Boost of the “P” models is a nice touch, and it’s great to see Origin Effects make use of the extra space on the southwest side of the pedal by including this function. Again, this adds extra utility for players with a minimalist rig. If you don’t already have a boost or overdrive pedal, you may just want to use the Boost function to push your amp into overdrive or provide a little solo boost.
The only range of sounds I haven’t tried personally are what’s provided from the Cali76-TX-P unit. This unit would seem like one for players who feel they still don’t have a enough saturation with the Cali76-TX as you could use parallel compression to further thicken up your overall sound. This might be overkill though. The parallel version was originally conceived for recording purposes. All these extra bells and whistles may seem like icing on the cake, but some musicians may find it wiser to keep it simple and just dial in the classic compression offered from either the Cali76-STD, Cali76-TX, or Cali76-TX-L. Besides, don’t you already have a great overdrive/boost pedal? Remember, think about what you need and what will most benefit your guitar sound. If you simply need quality compression, then one of the currently available units will most likely be right for your needs.
If you watch the Cali76 review demo you’ll really be able to discern the differences of these pedals yourself. Also, it’s worth emphasizing that you can sort of reach the ballpark sounds of other versions by tweaking whichever one you’re using. Pushing up the Input/Comp on the Cali76-STD will saturate the tone somewhat towards the iron core unit. Any “TX” unit can be run on 9-volts to get the standard sound. The Lundahl units are transparent like the standard and can be used in High Gain mode as well like the iron core version. The differences are subtle, less so with the iron core transformer, but before you make a decision have a listen for yourself. Check out our review demo. Listen to others on the web. If you’re still having a hard time considering whether or not you need a transformer version, know that even the humble Cali76-STD is a stellar compressor and may be the best value for the needs of most working guitarists.
I don’t have any real complaints with any of these units. Sure, the Cali76 is big. And in a world of shrinking pedal enclosures, this may be a turn off for some. It would of course be be nice if Origin Effects could condense the size a little, but the Cali76 is definitely worth making room for if you want the best compression on your pedalboard that money can buy. Simon Keats made no compromises in the audiophile grade components he used when designing this pedal. This is a premium piece of gear that few other pedals could even dream of matching. I will note that I really liked the way Origin Effects made use of the extra space on the “P” units by adding a Boost even though it may be redundant in some setups. I would be curious to see the Boost option be added as a standard feature on all the units and perhaps be selectable to come before or after the compression. I could imagine using it to match the levels of 2 different guitars before the signal hits the compression. Or maybe some people who really like the High/Low Gain options of the “TX” units might appreciate the ability to foot-switch between them. Perhaps then a small dial instead of a switch could be used to select the amount of High Gain for an adjusted level of extra saturation. These are just a few ideas that spring to mind, and I’m sure Origin Effects have already been taking notes from their growing fanbase of loyal customers. But I can’t really complain. These units are all top tier, and each one will be best suited to different players.
Which Cali76 Is For Which Player?
In case you’re skimming through this review (tl;dr?), here are my final thoughts on which of the 3 currently available units is probably best for which type of user.
Cali76-STD: Any guitarist/bassist who needs transparent, high quality compression on their pedalboard.
Cali76-TX: Guitarists with who like the coloring of the iron core transformer as its great tone will always be imparted in your sound. Those who might need the DI.
Cali76-TX-L: Guitarists/bassists/recording professionals who need high quality compression with studio-grade audio fidelity. Those who definitely need the DI.
While the Cali76-TX-P and Cali76-TX-LP do have the potentially handy boost function if your rig is very light on pedals (i.e. no overdrive/boost), I’ve come to regard parallel compression as less vital in pedals if companies have really focused on getting the compression right in the first place.
What’s most important here is Origin Effects’ interpretation of a proven compression method and how it’s been implemented in a fairly easy to use compressor pedal. They’ve nailed it with the Cali76. Let’s see the final result.
The Origin Effects Cali76 is the forerunner for the best compression pedal available today and is a heralding champion of the distinguished 1176 legacy that it draws upon. Each unit is top-notch and deserves highest marks in all categories. The Cali76-STD in particular is an instant classic, beautiful and transparent, and is an incredible value for real 1176-style compression in a stompbox. The Cali76-TX will be a welcome addition for guitarists who appreciate the extra tonal coloring that it offers. The Cali76-TX-LP brings in the hi-fi audiophile transparency that only a Lundahl transformer can deliver, making this pedal a multi-duty workhorse for stage and studio. The “P” units were a limited run, but you can still get that Lundahl sound with the Cali76-TX-L. The Cali76 is simply in a league of its own. As most compressors can’t compete on this level, it only competes with itself with the variations that are available. I can’t give a clear answer of which one is best. You’ll have to decide which one is best for you. As long as it says “Cali76” on it, you’ve made a good decision.
That concludes our Origin Effects Cali76-STD, Cali76-TX, and Cali76-TX-LP review. Thanks for reading.
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